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Out of the Black

Katriena Knights, who writes fantasy and science fiction as KC Myers, wrote her first poem when she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she's a multi-published author, scribbling stories in a variety of genres. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her children and a variety of animals.

Visit her at her website at katrienaknights.com. You can also follow her on Twitter find her @crazywritinfool, on Facebook @KatrienaKnightsAuthor, on Pinterest @ crazywritinfool, and on Patreon @KatrienaKnights.

The year EarthFed discovered hyperspace sickness was the year Jace McCallister's father never came home from outer space. They brought him back Earthside wrapped up in cotton and gauze so he wouldn't hurt himself, but his mind was still out there, caught in that strange between-place that nobody really understood, but into which spacegoers were expected to fling themselves so they could traverse the otherwise non-traversable distances between solar systems. No one knew how to treat him; no one knew why the jump had affected him that way in the first place.
Jace was six. She was too little to understand why Daddy had gone out into the black, or why she couldn't visit him in the hospital now that he'd returned. She didn't understand that he hadn't returned at all. Not really.
Eventually, they put a variety of safety measures in place to prevent this new malady--hyperspace sickness, they called it, for want of anything more imaginative. Baffle plates, medications, dietary modifications, psychological prep by trained counselors. All this seemed to help prevent the phenomenon, but once you'd gone down that road, past the mild discomfort of a cross-dimensional leap and into the genuine psychosis caused by staring into that abyss that wasn't really an abyss at all--by that time there wasn't anything anyone could do. Some spacers made their way out of it after a time. Most didn't.
When Jace was twelve, they let her visit her father. He wasn't trapped in gauze anymore; he seemed to have lost the desire to hurt himself. They'd given him a small room--to Jace it looked like an apartment. She went in, her mother just behind her. Mom had been sad through the long trip to the hospital.
When Jace sat down next to her father, he looked at her and smiled. He lifted a hand and stroked her hair.
"You'll go soon," he said quietly, "into the black. You'll be okay. Don't be afraid."
A small sound came from Jace's mother, standing just behind her. Mom didn't like her to talk about joining EarthFed, though Jace had decided that was what she wanted to do. Space called to her, for so many reasons.
Mom made another small sound, and Jace realized her mother was crying. Her father's gaze turned, looking over Jace's head.
"It's okay, Annalise," he said, his voice so quiet, so careful. "Go ahead and marry him. You'll be happy."
They sat for a few minutes, Jace just holding her father's hand. She barely remembered what he had been like before the black had taken him, but this Dad, right here, right now, gave her a strange feeling of peace and love. Which was all she needed from her father right now.
On the way home, a journey of two interstate Els, a solar airbus, and a commuter shuttle, Jace's mom broke down, small and shattered and weeping as she looked out at the Kansas landscape slipping by outside. Jace moved as close to her as she could, protecting her, blocking her from the curious looks turned her way.
"Mom?" she asked.
Mom shook her head. "That was the first time he's spoken since...."
She didn't need to finish the sentence. Jace understood. She wrapped her arms around her mother and held her close.
Jace joined EarthFed on her eighteenth birthday. Mom had made her peace with the decision. She'd also remarried, to a man she'd met a few weeks after that visit to see Jace's father.
"Your father knew," she said to Jace after the wedding, after four glasses of champagne. "He knew before Matt and I even met."
Jace just nodded. It seemed strange to Mom, but to Jace it just made sense.
Jace's first commission was on board a colony ship running supply trips between Earth and Farhallen. Earth's first out-of-system settlement, Farhallen had grown by leaps and bounds since its discovery, absorbing adventurers, entrepreneurs, and people who just wanted out from under the ponderous, slow revival of Earth. The home planet was coming out from under the pall of certain death that had held it for so long, but it was still delicate. Some people just wanted fresh air and a place to live where they could stretch without punching a neighbor in the face.
The ship sat for a few days in orbit, waiting for final orders and attending to minor maintenance while the crew took time to rest and visit the planet. Jace liked Farhallen. It was green and wild, and the settlers were friendly in a cautious, side-eyeing way Jace found endearing.
Twelve hours before they were scheduled to head back out, Jace got a message from Earth.
In her small quarters on board the ship, she opened the data packet, which had followed the ship's path through the wormhole three days ago, on her work computer.
It was her mother, red-eyed and gaunt. Jace blinked. She hadn't seen her mother cry in a long time. Not since her wedding, in fact. On the recording, she pushed a hand against one eye.
"I'm sorry, honey," she said. "I wish I could tell you this in person, but..." She trailed off, took a careful breath. "Your father's gone, Jace. He passed away."
Jace swallowed hard. The words seemed distant, unreal. Her face went cold, then hot.
"I'm sorry," her mother said again, and the datastream winked out.
The ship shoved off, departing Farhallen Station four hours later. In her cabin, Jace fastened her straps and webbing, preparing for the hyperspace jump. Her required medication lay on the table. She hadn't taken it.
The ship made a very specific noise when it moved into hyperspace. Jace knew the sound--she'd heard it numerous times--though without the pills it seemed wrong, starker. She closed her eyes as the ship made a strange jolt. All around her, the metal screamed. Somewhere, in some other possible dimension, this trip had ended with the ship ripped to pieces, strung through the length of the wormhole, never to be recovered.
Not in this dimension, though. Jace opened her eyes.
Her father sat in the bunk next to her.
He smiled. "Jace. It's good to see you."
"Mom said you were dead."
His eyes went distant for a moment, as if he were searching for something in his memory. "Yes..." he said slowly. "I am. There. In the place where your you is."
"And how are you here?"
He shrugged. "I'm not sure. You crossed through a bubble where you died. Maybe that's it."
"But I'm alive."
"Yes. And so am I. Here." He hesitated, taking her in, and finally smiled, the expression warm and full of pride. "I love you so much, Jace. I just wanted you to know that."
Jace's face was hot. When had she started to cry? She tried to reach out, to touch him, but her hand was tied to the bunk. "I love you too, Dad."
He leaned toward her, and she felt the faintest brush of a kiss against her forehead. "You're going to do great things, honey. You're going to be wonderful." He moved back, his gaze holding hers in a warm embrace. "Now take your pill."
She couldn't reach the pill, but somehow it was there, dissolving on her tongue. A wave of nausea passed through her, and she closed her eyes. When she opened them, her father was gone, and the sound of the ship had settled into the familiar rhythm of a smooth journey through hyperspace.
Jace smiled and unbuckled her belts. It was time to get back to work.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, April 29th, 2016

Author Comments

The idea of hyperspace as an intersection of the multiverse came to me when I was writing Starchild. I explored it somewhat in that book and in its sequel, Earthchild, but the constraints of those plots didn't allow for as much play with the idea as I wanted. I felt it was a neat concept, and I hope to explore it in more depth in a third book in that series. In the meantime, this short story allowed me to revisit the idea and imagine its effects on the early explorers of the Starchild universe.

- KC Myers
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